- June 20, 2013
Today is another sad anniversary from the history of the Vilnius Region. On July 20, 1994, Lithuanian policemen murdered Polish people living in the village of Glitiškės. The policemen belonged to the company of the 258th Lithuanian battalion under the command of Lieut. Polekauskas.
During the genocidal operation, in the village there were mainly women, children, and the elderly because men were at work. The village inhabitants were rounded up in one place and put before the firing squad, several at a time. Even children were not spared. The three-year-old Terenia Bałandówna was finished off by a shot in the head. On that miserable day in Glitiškės 39 people lost their lives, including nine children and two pregnant women. Only a few people, who managed to hide from the Lithuanian police, survived. According to their accounts, it was “a massacre full of hatred.”
I recall this sorrowful anniversary not only to remember, but also to make it a warning against the contemporary spirit of hatred towards national minorities in Lithuania. It is important not to let ethnic blindness and hatred conjure up ghosts of the past. History is life’s teacher. Those who understand this truth avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Therefore, the building of young statehood in Lithuania should not be based on negative emotions directed at national minorities, especially the Polish one. Prejudices and stereotypes, which always destroy interpersonal and international relations, should be avoided.
The discriminatory activities of the Lithuanian authorities can be seen with the naked eye. No one even tries to hide them. State institutions are involved in activities breaching the rights of the Polish national minority in Lithuania. It is unbelievable how far the country, a EU member state, has grown away from the European standards. The anti-minority education law, penalties for introducing bilingual information boards, the ban on preserving the original spelling of surnames in documents, and difficulties in returning the lands carved out from Poles in the communist times – these are examples of discrimination and a proof of hostile treatment of national minorities in Lithuania. It is also a breach of the standards of protecting the rights of national minorities guaranteed in the framework convention of the European Council. It is a contradiction of EU values that promote multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity, and multilingualism.
Lithuania has fallen into the “young state” syndrome. Instead of building a multinational society on positive values that unite people, it maintains the former divisions. In the world of simple, black-and-white rules, it is easier to rule and mobilise the so-called “one’s folks.” The simple division into “us” and “them” is, however, a trap. It foments aversion and hostility in society. It also gives rise to chauvinism. Chauvinism is neither a cure nor a good formula to solve problems with the Lithuanian identity. The fight with anything Polish is a dead-end street, which Lithuania has been taking for some time now.
In the country where 16 per cent of its inhabitants belong to national minorities there should be a national minorities act that would be protecting their rights. There should be no place for statements similar to the one made by the president of the Central Election Commission of Lithuania, who, during his visit to the Polish Sejm, said that “it is extremely awkward and burdensome that, in two Lithuanian local governments (the Vilnius District Municipality and the Šalčininkai District Municipality), the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania holds one-party monopoly.”
The words clearly demonstrate that the democratic choice which the inhabitants of the Vilnius Region have been making for years is being undermined. Even more, when such words are said by the president of the Election Commission, they sound like a threat. They also manifest the lack of respect for the electorate, which is the essence of democracy. If they want the relations with Poland to be good, Lithuanian politicians should consider what Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, said during his visit to Vilnius: “The relations between Poland and Lithuania will be as much good as the relations between the state of Lithuania and the local Polish minority.”
One should draw conclusions from history. Unite rather than divide the society. Protect rather than persecute national minorities. Not sour the relations with neighbours because, in the 21st century, building national identity on antagonisms is an anachronism. Understanding this truth will let people avoid tragedies such as the one that took place in Glitiškės, where hatred, which had been fomented throughout the years, was eventually expressed.
Bogusław Rogalski, PhD,
a political scientist and the ECR counsellor on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament
Tłumaczenie by Elwira Łykus w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Elwira Łykus within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.